Zach Johnson: Why Jordan Spieth deserves to win SI's Sportsman
Jordan Spieth is one of the leading contenders for Sports Illustrated's 2015 Sportsman of the Year. You can see the full list and the entire series of essays that make the argument for each candidate here.
If there’s one thing I know, it’s that everyone loves talking about Jordan Spieth.
He’s an all-American boy that loves smiling, signing autographs for fans and giving time to reporters. He commands attention from fans, athletes and celebrities—and especially from his competitors like me. Most importantly, he wins and wins and wins.
Jordan won a lot in 2015. It’s no hyperbole: he turned in one of the best years in golf history. Seven wins, two majors, $22 million in earnings. From a general perspective, it’s all very momentous. However, Jordan did a few things in 2015 that went beyond just a phenomenal golf season, and make him plenty deserving to be the seventh golfer named SI’s Sportsman of the Year.
First, he broke a record many thought would long-remain untouched. A golfer’s performance in the majors is how we define success in this sport. Jordan conquered the majors. Aside from winning two of them—arguably the two most difficult tournaments of the year—Jordan was in contention at each major. The last time a golfer was named Sportsman of the Year it was Tiger Woods in 2000 when he set the majors scoring record of 53-under. Jordan broke that mark in 2015, amassing a cool 54-under at the majors.
It was historic. But for Jordan, his history is just beginning.
While champions in this sport are often crowned in their late 20s, 30s and even early 40s, Jordan was just 21 years old for much of the year, finally turning 22 in late July. His youth is repeatedly lost in the shuffle of the beyond-his-years achievement, but believe me, guys on Tour are not forgetting that a youngster is frequently beating all of us. The maturity required for a college-aged kid to regularly undress the supreme competition of the PGA Tour is something that we haven’t seen since Tiger Woods, coincidentally the only athlete named Sportsman of the Year more than once.
It was only after playing with Jordan the first two days of the PGA Championship that his 2015 finally sunk in for me. Jordan was 6-under, per usual, when caddie Damon Green and I looked back on each round we shared with him in 2015. During each round, like clockwork, he made an incredible shot. Some chip or some putt or some approach he hit was the best shot I saw that day. He was consistently the most exciting player on Tour, from his first win at the Valspar Championship, to donning the green jacket, all the way to the Tour Championship he won by four shots.
All that being said, it’s what happened at St. Andrews, where Jordan actually lost, that makes him Sportsman of the Year in my mind. We must remember the award is given not only for athletic achievement, but also for sportsmanship.
It took some of the best golf I’ve played in years to win the British Open. Jordan had narrowly missed the playoff for his third major of the year by just a single stroke, his history on temporary hold as I won the 3-hole playoff. As I walked off the 18th green at St. Andrews, with thousands of people crowded around one of the most famous settings in golf, the first peer waiting to see me was Jordan Spieth, wearing that classic smile and embracing me in congratulatory hug.
I’m never going to forget that classy move, and I’ll never forget his 2015.